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C6APY – Ready to Go

Ok – well, we’re all ready to go!  The boat is ready and all the equipment assembled.  The current plan is to leave Nassau very early on Friday morning, only a few hours after @M1ACB and @M0VFC arrive, in order to make the most of the weather.  A look below and you’ll see what I mean.

c6apy_weather

So we have a little challenging weather and a few ‘Plans B’ – either way, if we can keep an antenna up in the air, we’ll be QRV!

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Amateur Satellite Ops

Ok, I’m a bit remiss for not posting this a bit earlier.  This year I will be active on the FM satellites from the Bahamas. 


I expect to be active from FL15, 14, 13, 23 and possibly 24 and 22. In addition I will be part of the C6APY DXpedition to NA-054 the Berry Islands (FL15) during early March. They (we) will be active on FM and some linear sats from there. We will also be doing much (we hope HF and HF digital modes).

Keep an eye on my Twitter account @itinerantham for updates.

73 and hope to hear you!

Hovercraft Instrumentation

At the request of Julian and Dave, here’s a post on what your ‘Friday’ started – Dave!

I’m an engineer and not much of a writer so here goes 🙂  I’m involved with a charity called Hoveraid.  I help them out with practical stuff like when they’re out with the ‘craft doing demonstrations at public events in the UK. Here’s a short video and you’ll see why they captured my imagination.

They do great work in enabling other agencies to bring relief and aid to those who live in areas that are ‘unreachable’ by conventional transport – have a read of their site – there’s some great work going on!

So I was chatting to Andy about my Fridge controller and he asked if I could help him with a project for the hovercraft (craft).  These craft are essentially very simple, agricultural machines (and that’s one reason that they do so well deployed in the field). The instrumentation is simple too with the minimum of gauges etc. But when things go wrong, there can be no warning.  For example, Andy told me that it would be very useful to be able to monitor the temperatures of the bearings of each of the fans – the River Rover has 3 fans – 2 for thrust and one for lift ad they each have 2 bearings. Well, I said, I can measure temperature!  And so the project was born.

A project like this is only possible when things come together!  First there was Hoveraid’s need and I know I could build a system that would measure temperature.  I know also that I’d need to display it and the River Rover dashboard lends itself to the use of 7in screens – conveniently available!  Now, I could have used a simple controller like and Arduino but that meant running wires the length of the craft so decided to use an ESP8266 – after all its wifi, more ram and more power than an Arduino anyway.

At the display end I was looking for a robust solution that would be somewhat resistant to the  dust and humidity of Madagasacar – or anywhere else in the world.  I initially thought of using a PI as a hotspot to collect the MQTT’d temperature data and display it using node-red and node-red dashboard but as it turned out the PI was an unreliable hotspot – I couldn’t connect more than one of my ESP8266s to it whereas they would all connect to any other routers.

And then it was Friday and Dave CJ posted this on the Node-Red Google group.  So I tried it on my phone and it worked.  I now had the display and router solution.  With my phone configured as a wifi hotspot, and with an MQTT broker and node-red running on it, I saw the potential of having a robust display which gave me a 2-component but very expandable system with the potential of multiple modules all over the craft supplying data via MQTT to node-red and its dashboard. (Pete Scargill has a few great articles on node-red and other matters – well worth a read).

So after reading all that – here’s a nice video to remind you what its all about 🙂

 

The Tech Bits

This project is so simple its not true.  An ESP8266, a pullup resistor and as many DS18b20s as you need.  Add, Nick O’Leary’s pubsubclient for MQTT messaging to the DallasTemperature library and you have all the essentials.  I chose to poll the sensors (powered – not parasitic) every 2 seconds and publish each sensor’s data as an individual topic.  This makes for easy configuration (and made the most sense since I don’t have the Javascript skills to allow me to process the payloads in node-red).

So here’s the box.  (I’m just off to Screwfix to get a bigger one since I had to swap out my cheap Chinese power supply for a more robust potted one that is a bit bigger).

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The magic happens in node-red.

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When the ESP system starts, it publishes a list of the sensor IDs to outTopic. This allows you to make a node for each sensor and assign a function to it.  Then you can assign the appropriate dashboard element to each temperature.  The function is a simple heartbeat that puts the current time into the payload every time a temperature is received. (Hint: it would be so nice for that to be an optional element in each dashboard item :))

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River Rover 7 in screen

I didn’t have a 7in tablet to test and deploy this on but one of the wonderful things about working with a charity is that some of our supporters use social media so Andy asked if anyone had an old Android 7in tablet. Then the next wonderful thing happened!  Within a matter of hours we had a new tablet!

With Andy CJ’s instructions and some hints from Peter’s blog comments I soon had an MQTT broker and node-red running (although I’m still having trouble getting it to start up as a Wifi hotspot and then to run node-red automatically). I use the default Android browser in kiosk mode – (ask Google :)) It works well!

So there you have it! Its a really simple, expandable system made possible by the contributions of so many.  Its impossible to mention everyone but I’m very grateful for your efforts in making this possible!

Of course, this isn’t the whole story.  This is only the prototype.  We are in the middle of putting a new engine into the Griffon 1500 – a much larger craft.

g1500-blackpool

This has a larger cockpit so I’m envisioning 10 in screens in here with all sorts of performance parameters. The new engine will have CAN so that will be another integration challenge.  This project is moving slowly as refurbishment is an expensive process and since we depend on donations and volunteer labour it moves forward as and when funds and people are available. We’re always looking for help so if you would like to be involved, take a look here and here 🙂

I’ll update this article and or write more shortly. Andy is taking the ‘system’ out to Madagascar in the next few weeks for field testing so I’ll let you know how it goes!

Anguilla Cays – NA-219 Approved

I’ve just received an email from Roger, G3KMA, which approved the recent activation – QSL cards with NA-219 Anguilla Cays will be accepted. Yay!

I’m looking forward to a return visit in the future when I can spend a lot more time there and work a lot more stations.
73

Anguilla Cays, NA-219 – The Trip

I thought I’d add a few notes on the trip to the Anguilla Cays – I have a few more pictures and video that might be interesting for anyone considering a visit or a similar trip.

We left from Long Island in the Bahamas on a 42ft sailing catamaran.  The trip took about 40 hours and we arrived on the Cay Sal Banks at dawn on Sunday.

It got a bit rough – in fact it was rough for most of the way.

 

When we arrived, I managed find a place to anchor the boat safely and went to the beach! Naturally, I was in a bit of a rush to get going but I shot this video of the station and a booming MI station.

 

In general, the videos were rubbish! Sorry! I was pretty tired after the trip.

I forgot to take (or apply) insect repellent. So there I am sitting on the beach and I was visited by my very own cloud of flies that settled all over me!  Believe me there is lettle more distracting than running a pileup watching a pair of flies fornicating on your knee! (Note to self: if you haven’t had a shower in a few days – better get insect repellent).

Anyway, they disappeared after a while but not before I’d swallowed one!

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful if very uncomfortable. The boat never stopped rolling and I could only nap for about 20 minutes at a time since we would get a particularly violent ‘rock’ at about that frequency.

I was well supported by Julie, YL, who kept me supplied in food and drink and she stood her watches on the way and on the way back across the Florida current (Gulf Stream) to Florida (another 26 hours).

It was an interesting trip overall and I’d like to go back in a couple of years – hopefully in better weather and for a longer time.

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4 Crosses…

I took this photo on the way back. Its taken about 1/4 mile north of the QTH. There are 4 rough driftwood crosses on the hill (about 1/4 way from the left on the photo). I assume that these were placed by the Bahamas Defence Force back in 2014. I’ll let you read the gory details here.

NA-219, Anguilla Cays, QRT

 

I was active from the Anguilla Cays, NA-219 on Sunday morning (21/2/16) from 1518z – 1733 on 15m only. The 2nd session was on 22/02 at 1349-1427 when the noise defeated me and then the antenna got blown over (again). (Winds were up to 31kts). Session 3 was the same day from 1737-1910z on 17m.
The QTH was the small beach to the north- west of the blue spot on the satellite photo.

Here are some videos of the QTH and station.

My apologies for the poor commentary – I was very tired after the 40 hour trip to get there.

In all I made only some 450 QSOs over the 3 sessions. My time on these islands was necessarily short – if you have been following previous posts then you’ll know that the weather was not playing ball at all. Indeed, we made it back to Florida only 8 hours before strong northerly winds set in – for at least 5 days.

The station was a K3, barefoot to a vertical on the beach as you’ve seen. Very simple but with a good enough performance to work 5B4AHJ long path. It was nice also to realise that apart from being able to work many friends who made it through the pileup I also logger W5BOS who first activated this group from the Dog Rocks back in 2000.

I’ll talk more about the journey and logistics in another post but in the mean time, thank you for creating a huge pileup when I was QRV – It was a lot of fun and I’m sorry it was not possible to stay longer but the weather was just awful and on the limits of being safe. That meant that I was only taking 20 minute naps for most of the journey there and during our time at anchor.

 

Anguilla Cays – NA-219 – Departure Update

We will depart Thompson Bay, Long Island this afternoon for the 42 hour trip to the Anguilla Cays. We should arrive on Sunday morning. The change in QTH and timing is due to the weather. 

It seems we shall be the ‘meat’ in the weather ‘sandwich’. The meat will be thin but hopefully tasty!

The forecast now gives us 15-20kt winds on the Cay Sal Bank on Sunday and Monday. But there is a serious risk of strong thunderstorms on Tuesday night and after that, strong winds from the north and west associated with a cold from transiting the area. Had we gone to Cay Sal itself, another 50 NM further, we would lose operating time and there is no decent shelter from the forecast winds. So, we’re going to the Anguilla Cays since that will allow us some operating time before we have to run for shelter in Florida. (There is no acceptable anchorage at Cay Sal to weather the cold front since the (anchor) holding is poor).

The Anguilla Cays have never been activated to my knowledge. The satellite photography is not so good but I got some pictures from the web site in my last post and it seems that the islands are pretty high – 12-15m. There are a couple of beaches on the west coast that will be sheltered from the wind but the takeoff will only be suitable for working to the west. For Europe, I’ll have to cross the hill and find a sheltered spot. 

On Sunday, I’ll get to the beach and setup to work north and west on either 15 or 17m for as long as I can. (Please bear with me – I’ll be a bit knackered after the trip). I’m hoping not to have to use 17m as there is limited space on the band and I expect to have a reasonably wide split but if 15m isn’t working, I’ll use whatever is!

Since the wind is likely to be lower on Monday morning – I’ll plan on being QRV for Europe and eastwards on Monday for the 15m opening. 

Just a word on scheduling. I can’t be QRV between 1130 and 1230 UTC on Monday – that’s when I get the weather forecast for the next few days. (That’s ok since 15 and 17m don’t open to Europe till at least 1200). The wind is due to change a bit more to the southeast early on Monday morning so I may have to move the boat and find a new qth so please bear that in mind if I’m late coming on.

I’ll stay QRV for as long as possible – I’m hoping not to have to leave before Monday night but that will depend on the forecast I get on Monday morning. I will also take a break every few hours for battery recharging. Help me work more stations with less power – please form and orderly queue – lol! #DX Code of Conduct 😀. If I get impatient while the main battery is charging, I might put some AAs in the KX3 and see who I can work – that’ll really wind up the armchair critics at CDXC!

So there it is. We’re off and there’s a good chance I’ll get to operate – see you there!